In recent years, government officials have promised to set up a dialysis unit on Virgin Gorda so that the island’s residents won’t have to travel to Tortola regularly to get the dialysis treatment they need.

But a recent study suggested that setting up such a unit may not be feasible, according to Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley.

The study, which was conducted shortly before the outbreak of Covid-19, raised concerns about the cost and long-term sustainability of the proposal, Mr. Wheatley said during a House of Assembly meeting last month.

He added that the BVI Health Services Authority acknowledges the importance of dialysis services for Virgin Gorda residents and is committed to further reviewing the matter comprehensively.

This review, he said, will take into consideration cost-effectiveness, safety, sustainability and the specific needs of the patient demographic in the territory, he added.

In the meantime, the BVIHSA will continue working to monitor and improve the existing arrangements for patients from Virgin Gorda, according to the minister.

130 patients

Mr. Wheatley said that between 2017 and 2023, a total of 130 patients accessed dialysis services, with 112 residing on Tortola and 18 on Virgin Gorda.

Among these patients, 49 were enrolled in the territory’s chronic kidney disease chemodialysis programme, with 39 on Tortola and 10 on Virgin Gorda, he added.

“A small satellite unit may appear to be a simple solution, but cost, quality, scope of care and long-term sustainability must also be factored into the equation,” he said. “We must ensure that while removing the inconvenience of a boat trip that we do not expose the patients to other risks and reduced quality of care.”

The existing dialysis unit on Tortola provides several advantages, including shared overhead costs and proximity to the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital, which improves access to other essential services for patients with complex medical needs, Mr. Wheatley said. He also noted that in the VI, dialysis patients have shown remarkable resilience, with survival rates reaching up to 18 to 20 years. Typically, he added, dialysis patients in North America survive for an average of five to ten years.

“Our dialysis patient population is therefore more mature in the disease course than what is seen in the average North American dialysis unit,” he said. “As such, there is a greater need for specialist and subspecialist medical care and intervention, which the proximity to the hospital affords.”

Renal failure

The Ministry of Health and Social Development is also deeply concerned about Virgin Gorda’s high incidence of renal failure, which primarily stems from diabetes, Mr. Wheatley said.

“We will be working closely with public and private healthcare providers to improve the quality of clinical care to diabetics, with particular focus on reducing complications such as renal disease, heart attacks, and strokes,” he added.

Diabetes guidelines

As part of those efforts, he said, government recently adopted the Caribbean Public Health Agency clinical guidelines for managing diabetes.

The government is also working closely with the United Kingdom, opening spaces through the UK National Health System quota system for people requiring renal transport, according to the minister.